About 80 percent of managers unconsciously prefers a male boss
Our brains want a male boss…….
Research by Direction shows an unconscious preference for male leadership
Research conducted by training institute Direction into Leadership & Diversity among 2,567 employees, managers and executives shows that 78.8% of women and 87.2% of men have an unconscious preference for a male leadership. According to Esther Mollema, founder of Direction, this explains the recently published research about the shortage of women at the top of the corporate ladder. She poses that our brains unconsciously choose a man as leader; while this may not be what we really want, it is what we actually do.
Unconscious choice is locked in our brains
Esther Mollema has conducted hundreds of discussions with Managers in every industry and at all levels. “I am often asked why so much attention needs to be paid to diversity. There may be a presumption that the glass ceiling is really something of the past. If there is no longer a glass ceiling then what is there? Are women still deliberately not being appointed to higher positions? Are women less ambitious than men? You may well dismiss this as a ‘women’s issue’, but as a Manager you need to look at this more carefully. The fact is that diverse teams achieve better results than homogeneous teams. We do however have to make great effort because we still do not always choose the best people. Our brains use ‘software’, and this software is not perfect; it has bugs in it; Mindbugs. In the context of men and women this means that we still carry many unconscious ideas, despite our contemporary thoughts about equality and emancipation. Those unconscious ideas carry a lot more influence than we think. The interesting thing about mindbugs is that we all have them. Everyone has certain unconscious prejudices and beliefs about others”.
Results of about 2500 completed Mindbugs tests
Based on scientific research by Mahzarin Banaji, Senior Lecturer of Social Ethics at the Harvard Faculty of Psychology and her colleagues Brian Nosek and Tony Greenwald, the Direction institute developed a Mindbugs test designed to determine unconscious preferences about male and female leadership within organizations. A total of 2,567 employees, managers and directors of small and large profit and non-profit organizations completed the test.
- 78.8% of women and 87.2% of men indicated an unconscious preference for a male leader.
- Unconscious preference for male leadership has no age correlation. Direction is currently doing further analysis of results into the high score of the 18 to 24 year olds cohort.
Of the 18 to 24 year olds (n=20), 90% indicated a preference for male leadership
Of the 25 to 34 year olds (n=472), 84.3% indicated a preference for male leadership
Of the 35 to 44 year olds (n=946), 80.6% indicated a preference for male leadership
In the 45 years and older group (n=1129), 82.3% indicated a preference for male leadership
- Level of education also showed a relationship to an unconscious preference for male leadership. However, the incidence is higher (88.3%) in people with a mavo, havo, vwo or mbo education compared to people with college or university degrees (81.7 percent).
- People from different industries /sectors completed the test. It was interesting to note that people working in the care sector (72.2%), R&D (77.2%) and marketing (79.8%) have less unconscious preference for male leadership than those working in sales (86.2%), ICT (86.1%) and HRM (83.9%). The latter group especially is of concern because these are often the people who are responsible for recruitment and selection of new staff.
- Preference for male leadership scored lowest in the care sector group at 74.4%. The education sector at 87.0% and the ICT sector at 93.9% reflected the worst scores.
- 86.5% of men in leadership positions unconsciously prefer male leadership while 75.1% of women in leadership positions unconsciously prefer a man as leader.
The research results show that starters in the workforce (with 1 to 5 years of work experience) and people with extensive work experience (of 31 to 35 years) unconsciously prefer male leadership (at 87.1% and 86.7% respectively). People with work experience spanning 16 to 20 years have the lowest level of unconscious preference for male leadership at 79.9%.
- At all levels within an organization unconscious preference for male leadership emerged:
General Employees (n=826): 84.62%
Lower Management (n=185): 84.32%
Middle Management (n=725): 81.38%
Upper Management (n=587): 79.39%
Executive (n=245): 82.86%
Esther Mollema adds: “Our mindbugs cause us to have a preference for people who are like us. It may well go against all of our fixed beliefs, but time and time again it is clear that we don’t necessarily choose the best people; despite of our conscious best intentions, and despite of our conscious desire to really select the best candidates. We still unconsciously go for male leaders. This may not be what we really want, but it is what we actually do”.
Contact Esther Mollema for more information about our leadership & diversity programs.